A Drive Up the Taconic
FDR’s 124th Birthday at Hyde Park, NY
January 30, 2006
It’s a pleasant drive up the Taconic State Parkway, a road built in FDR’s time in Albany as Governor. The traffic was light at 11:45 am as I headed north to route 55 and then west to the Hudson. Even though the speed limit is 55 mph, few cars on that scenic meandering road seem to follow the rules. Not far above Ossining the countryside becomes more and more rural as one approaches and passes I-84. Eventually I reached route 55, the car swung under the road and I headed west towards the town of La Grange. It takes a few more miles to reach Poughkeepsie, the Mid-Hudson River Bridge and old route 9. So in a little more than an hour reached I the Hudson, drove north past Marist College, the Culinary Institute and the long stonewall that marks the entrance to Springwood and FDR’s home. I drove in, parked, and walked into the Wallace Visitor’s Center and bookstore. I brought a whole pile of old postcards and cacheted covers (envelopes), that had been previously franked (postmarked) on various other occasions, like April 12, or, earlier January 30ths. I said hello to a salesperson that I knew, sat undisturbed at the counter and cancelled all of them with a new January 30th postmark.
I then bought some new books; Happy Days are Here Again, by Steve Neal, Eleanor Roosevelt. A Hudson Valley Remembrance, by Joyce Ghee and Joan Spence, FDR, the Vatican and the Roman Catholic Church in America, 1933-45, The Juggler, Franklin Roosevelt as Wartime Statesman, and finally Churchill and America by Martin Gilbert (whom I have met three times and have exchanged letters.) From there I strolled around taking pictures, enjoying the relative solitude and clear, bright, warm weather of Dutchess County and the rolling countryside that sloped down to the Hudson River.
Today, with an unusually sunny and warm day in Hyde Park, New York, where the temperature flirted with a record high, the birthday of our 32nd President Franklin Delano Roosevelt was celebrated. At the gravesite an honor guard from the armed forces, along with West Point cadets in their full ceremonial uniforms, stood at attention while visitors, mostly old-timers stood quietly in the Rose Garden.
It was over 60 years on the 12th of April that our War President was laid to rest near the only real home that he knew and loved. Of course FDR lived other places from time to time. As a newly-wed he lived in New York City at 49 East 65th Street, and then at 1733 “N” Street, Washington, DC while with the Navy Department, and at the Governor’s mansion in Albany for four years, and for a few critical years and many winter vacations in Warm Springs, Georgia, at the Little White House, and on Pennsylvania Avenue for a bit more then twelve, on Campobello Island in the summers up until 1921 and even on a drifting houseboat called the Larooco when he was first recovering from the devastation of polio.
But, it was at Springwood, what the big house was known as, where FDR was born and raised. He was home taught until age 14 and his mother lived there as a widow for decades until her death in 1941. FDR inherited the home at her death, planned and built his office and library there, and at his death gave it to the people of the United States.
So I stood there with others, and listened to the keynote address by 87-year-old Ms. Elizabeth Daniels, the Vassar historian who told us what good neighbors the Roosevelt’s were to Vassar College. FDR was asked to be a trustee of the college in 1923 while he was still practically bed-ridden with the effects of polio. He would be a great friend of the college and a trustee (honorary 1933-45) until his death in 1945. Ms. Daniels, who graduated Vassar in 1941, remembered fondly the many times she heard Mrs. Roosevelt speak at the college, and few times she personally met the President. It was a moving and personal recollection of those far removed times. The fifth President of Vassar, Henry Noble McCrackan (1915-46) was a pacifist who had opposed both World War I and World War II. But a vast majority of the faculty (over 125), under the leadership of Dean Mildred Thompson, signed a personal letter to the President commending his efforts up and to the start of the war. After the start of the war Vassar’s president came on board wholeheartedly. But the cordial relationship between McCrackan, that had started in 1923 and had been nurtured during and up to the late 1930s and the President, was never the same.
With the end of Ms. Daniels’ address, wreaths were placed at the grave, the honor guard discharged salutary volleys and the playing of taps was sounded. Thus ended the service marking the birth of Franklin Delano Roosevelt.